Scaling the Heights of the Caoling Historic Trail
There are several good reasons why the Caoling Historic Trail, located on the northeast coast of Taiwan, is one of the most popular day-hikes in the Taipei region. It’s not too strenuous. It’s rich in history. Above all, it’s a very scenic walk. Text: Richard Saunders Photos: Twelli, Northeast and Yilan Coast National Scenic Area
Crossing the mountains close to Taiwan proper’s easternmost point (Cape Sandiao), the Caoling Historic Trail is one of the few remaining stretches of the Danlan Historic Trail, which once connected the north-coast port of Tamsui (Danshui) with the fertile but then-remote east-coast plains of present-day Yilan County. This section of the route (one of the few stretches that can be followed today) was restored in the 1990s, and has since been a favorite with both local and visiting walkers.
The Danlan Trail was established in 1807 during the Qing Dynasty (1644~1911) by Yang Ting-li, governor of Taiwan (which was then part of China’s Fujian Province), and ran from Tamsui in the northwest, across the Yangmingshan mountains and the hilly eastern part of what is now called New Taipei City, to end at the coast of present-day Yilan County, facilitating the opening up of a hitherto relatively inaccessible area of the island.
Two further sections of the Danlan Trail still exist. Another cross-ridge stretch of the trail starts above Houtong (the former mining village southeast of Keelung, best known today for its population of several hundred street cats), and a short length of the trail near Shiding (shoutheast of central Taipei City) has also been reopened. However, the Caoling (“grassy-ridge”) Historic Trail, named after the silvergrass that grows thickly around its highest point, is by far the most popular section, boasting two rocks carved with florid, 150-year-old calligraphy, a sea of silvergrass, and (best of all!) some really amazing views of the east coast and the Pacific.
The walk is a short day-hike (allow 4-5 hours), and the area is easily reached by train (Fulong Railway Station in the northwest, Dali Railway Station in the southeast). There’s a fair amount of vertical ascent, but the well- signposted path is wide and for the most part surfaced with stone slabs (including many steps), which makes for straightforward walking and route-finding. Bring protection against both sun and rain, plus food and plenty of water. Most of the central section of the walk is exposed, with little or no shade.
Most people begin their excursion at the Fulong-area trailhead, thus saving the best scenery for the later part of the outing. Fulong village heaves on summer weekends, thanks to one of the finest sandy beaches in Taiwan, located just a few minutes’ walk away from the railway station.
If you have your own vehicle, you can drive to the trailhead, which is about 6km from Fulong by main road; head to Provincial Highway 2C, then watch for the side-road turn-off, which is clearly marked in Chinese and English. On foot, however, you can take a shorter route (about 4km) along quiet minor roads and trails, which is also a more scenic way than the main road.
To walk to the trailhead, turn left upon leaving the railway station building, follow the railway tracks for about a hundred meters, and turn left again, passing beneath them under a bridge. Then simply follow the clearly signposted quiet country roads, slowly approaching the hills. After a few kilometers you need to take a short trail through a small bamboo grove; you’ll then meet another country road. Turn left at the next intersection and follow the road, which is beside a stream, passing idyllic Yuanwangkeng Riverside Park, a great place to stop and rest awhile before continuing up to the start of Caoling Historic Trail. From the park, it’s another 1.5 kilometers to the trailhead. On the way you will cross an old bridge, interestingly named “Horse-Falling-to-Death Bridge.” The story goes that in the old days, when the bridge at this point was narrow and made of wood, horses had, on different occasions, fallen into the stream and died when attempting to cross.
In reaching the trailhead, you pass from narrow vehicle-access roadway to stone-slab pathway and follow the tumbling stream up into the hills. Right beside the stream, shortly after the start of the trail, is the Great Banyan Tree, a particularly large and beautiful specimen.
However, if the weather is clear, instead of starting downhill to Dali consider taking the path on the right that climbs up the grassy hillside to a rest pavilion, about 400 meters away. This path is the long and challenging Taoyuan Valley Trail. The views as the stone-slabbed path ascends, both out to sea and inland, are exceptional. Beyond the pavilion, the path follows the grassy top of the coastal ridge for 4.5 kilometers (about 2 hours). There are magnificent views most of the way, as the path climbs over 616-meter-high Mt. Wankengtou (the highest point along this stretch of the coastal mountains) and on to the beautiful, close-cropped hillside meadows of Taoyuan Valley, a popular picnic spot with more magnificent views both over the ocean and inland. If you’ve made it this far (and the hilly terrain means the ridge walk is best attempted only by the fairly fit) you can turn the ramble into a full day’s hike of about 8 hours. March along the ridge for another 30 minutes or so, then take a trail (signposted to Daxi) on the left that descends back into the woods. Eventually the sea is reached once more (on the far side of Cape Sandiao) near the little harbor village of Daxi, where several great seafood restaurants make for a well-deserved après-hike meal. Turn right (south) along the coastal highway, and Daxi Railway Station is a 10-minute walk away.
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